The focus of this opinion is on the key features of sentience in animals which can experience different states of welfare encapsulated by the new term ‘welfare-aligned sentience’. This term is intended to exclude potential forms of sentience that do not enable animals in some taxa to have the subjective experiences which underlie different welfare states. As the scientific understanding of key features of sentience has increased markedly during the last 10 to 15 years, a major purpose here is to provide up-to-date information regarding those features. Eleven interconnected statements about sentience-associated body functions and behaviour are therefore presented and explained briefly. These statements are sequenced to provide progressively more information about key scientifically-supported attributes of welfare-aligned sentience, leading, in their entirety, to a more comprehensive understanding of those attributes. They are as follows: (1) Internal structure–function interactions and integration are the foundations of sentience; (2) animals possess a capacity to respond behaviourally to a range of sensory inputs; (3) the more sophisticated nervous systems can generate subjective experiences, that is, affects; (4) sentience means that animals perceive or experience different affects consciously; (5) within a species, the stage of neurobiological development is significant; (6) during development the onset of cortically-based consciousness is accompanied by cognitively-enhanced capacities to respond behaviourally to unpredictable postnatal environments; (7) sentience includes capacities to communicate with others and to interact with the environment; (8) sentience incorporates experiences of negative and positive affects; (9) negative and positive affective experiences ‘matter’ to animals for various reasons; (10) acknowledged obstacles inherent in anthropomorphism are largely circumvented by new scientific knowledge, but caution is still required; and (11) there is increasing evidence for sentience among a wider range of invertebrates. The science-based explanations of these statements provide the foundation for a brief definition of ‘welfare-aligned sentience’, which is offered for consideration. Finally, it is recommended that when assessing key features of sentience, the same emphasis should be given to positive and negative affective experiences in the context of their roles in, or potential impacts on animal welfare.
Mellor, D.J. (2019). Welfare-aligned sentience: Enhanced capacities to experience, interact, anticipate, choose and survive. Animals 9(7), E440; doi:10.3390/ani9070440